Colonel Decker wondered what possessed him to check on his prisoner at 0200. He told himself that it had something to do with years of getting the A-Team within his grasp only to have them slip away, but he knew he was kidding himself. The colonel had not slept at all, preoccupied as he was since he had learned earlier in the night that his son’s unit was shipping out for Saudi Arabia. As for his prisoner, Decker knew there wasn’t really any way for Peck to escape.
Decker was still disturbed by his communications with Peck. The day after Peck had clammed up, he still wouldn’t say anything. Decker had tried, making all sorts of crude comments regarding Smith and Baracus. Even a nasty dig at Peck’s parentage, something that Decker was sure would provoke a reaction, was met by silence.
It wasn’t that Decker wanted Peck to talk so much. He couldn’t really explain it that well. It was just that when hounds chase a fox, they expect the fox to behave like a fox. They don’t expect it to turn into a turtle. Peck just wasn’t acting like Decker had planned. The man’s behavior thoroughly puzzled the colonel and that bothered him.
Having checked the external security for the eighth time that day, Decker walked to the guard outside Peck’s room. Seeing the superior officer, the guard jumped to attention and saluted.
“At ease, private. Is there anything to report?”
“Sir, no, sir.”
“When did you last check the prisoner?”
“Sir, 10 minutes ago. I check every 20 minutes as ordered, sir.”
“Very good, private. What is the prisoner’s condition?”
“Sir, he’s sleeping, sir.”
The loud scream emanating from the room belied the guard’s claim.
Wide eyed, the guard looked at Decker and said, “He was sleeping, sir.”
Decker raced into the darkened room, the private at his heels. In the dim light emanating from the doorway, he could see Peck thrashing about in the bed. Seeing how Peck’s body jerked, Decker’s immediate thought was that the man was having a seizure. Shoving the terrified private back towards the door, the colonel yelled, “Get a nurse!” Then he rushed to restrain Peck.
Another scream erupted from the man’s throat as his twisting placed his entire weight onto the broken shoulder. He kept kicking his legs out, repeatedly catching his left leg in the shackle. Decker suddenly understood that this was not a seizure. Peck’s eyes were closed and he was still asleep. The man was having a nightmare.
“Peck, Templeton, Lieutenant . . .” The force of the blow to his head stopped him in mid-sentence.
“Tell me,” said his interrogator, “what was your objective?”
“Peck,” he repeated, albeit more slowly. “Templeton, Lieu . . .”
This time, his breath left him as he felt a punch to his midsection. He fell to the floor and felt a volley of kicks to his rib and groin. Twisting, he tried to protect himself, but with his arms tied to the chair now lying on his back, he knew it was futile. He felt a hand grab his hair as he was yanked forcefully to his knees and found himself staring straight into the dark, cold eyes of General Chao.
“You will tell me what I want to know Lieutenant or I will make you beg me to kill you.”
He let a small smile flit across his bloody lips as he stared back in the general’s face. Face knew he was not going to like what was coming next, but he needed to let the other man know he could take his worst. “Peck, Templeton . . .”
Before he finished, Chao made a quick gesture with his head and the two guards grabbed Face and dragged him across the room. With skill that came from regular practice, the guards quickly removed the chair, shackled Face’s wrists and, using a rope attached to the shackles, pulled his arms above his head and his feet off the ground. Dizzy from the sudden movement and the blows to his head, Face let his head slump forward.
The force of the cane on his upper back caused him to arch violently and rear his head back. Blow after blow followed, interrupted only by the general’s demand for information. Each time, Face gave his name, rank and serial number, usually never getting past his name before the cane struck his battered body in response. Face knew that the rest of the team would be able to hear any screams, so he tried to take the abuse in silence.
The cane struck his back and legs repeatedly, but then stopped. Hanging limp from the shackles, Face could feel the blood and sweat running freely down his body and hoped it would be enough to satisfy Chao’s bloodlust.
It wasn’t. Out the corner of his eye, he saw the guard give Chao an iron. The tip was blazing red. Oh God, he thought, trying to suppress his panic. They’re going to burn me.
Chao approached him and put the heated end of the poker near Face’s cheek.
“Give me the information or I’m going to remove your eye. I know you were on your way to Vinh. Tell me why. Or this room is the last thing you’ll ever see.”
Face knew Chao could only imagine the fear the poker instilled. Since his childhood, Face had been in mortal terror of being burned, a remnant of a fire he had survived. For a moment, he nearly gave in to that fear, nearly revealing that the team had been attempting to rescue some friendly operatives before the city of Vinh was reduced to ashes in planned bombing raids. No. He couldn’t do that. He would take Chao’s worst. Even if he died here, he would die with honor and not break his code. He would not betray the others.
“Peck, Temp . . .”
The pain was excruciating. With a sudden movement, Chao dropped the heated iron from Face’s head and buried it into his chest. He knew he could not stiffle the cry of pain, but, even in his agony, he wanted to protect the men outside. He wanted to do something to give them some hope that he was surviving. So as the fire struck again and again, he didn’t scream. He yelled at Chao with every Vietnamese profanity that came to mind.
As Decker tried to use his weight to stem the man’s violent twisting, he heard Peck shout in another language — Vietnamese, Decker finally realized. But even though Decker did not understand the words, he could hear the terror and pain in them.
“Peck. Calm down.” He forced himself to push harder against Peck’s chest, no longer concerned about hurting the already injured man.
Perhaps in response to Decker’s force, Peck’s right arm, though still shackled, jerked out of the bed with the force of a sharp right hook. Amidst the clang of the shackle on the bed guard, Decker could heard the sound of bones breaking. Shit, he thought. Peck was going to kill himself.
Decker yelled again for a nurse.
Face knew what was coming next as the guards held him down over the small table in the room. Despite having little strength left, he struggled as best he could. Now, his head forced down on its side, Face could see Chao’s head tilted next to him. The cold black eyes shone for the first time and a smile crossed the general’s face.
“I could stop this, Lieutenant. Just tell me what I want to know.”
Face did not have the strength to speak, even if he had wanted to. Seeing that he was going to get no answer, Chao shook his head deliberately and then nodded to one of the guards.
Face felt his pants being pulled down to his ankles and closed his eyes. He tried to picture the beach, the ocean waves crashing into a wooden pier. If he could trick himself into believing he was someplace — any place — other than where he was, he might be able to make himself believe this wasn’t happening. Just as he was often able to trick others into believing things about him, he sometimes could work the same magic on himself
This was not one of those times.
Face had never felt this type of pain before. Not just the physical pain caused by the forceful thrust of the guard, but the emotional pain as well. Shame, guilt and rage flooded through him. He screamed in agony, for the first time thinking of no one else and making no effort to mask his suffering.
He didn’t know how long he screamed or how long he was violated. Then it was over. The guard holding him down let go of Face’s head. Face slumped to the floor, shaking violently.
Chao leaned over him. “I told you Lieutenant. We could have avoided this. Give me the information I want and I will spare you from any more pain.”
Gathering his strength, Face looked at the other man defiantly. He’d already been beaten, burned and raped. He wanted the general to know that there was nothing worse that they could do to him.
Face did not know how wrong he was.
“What the hell took you so long,” Decker yelled as the nurse ran in with a sedative.
“I came as fast I could,” she retorted.
As she began to put the sedative in Peck’s IV bag, Decker began to relax. The injured man seemed to be calming, though he was still trembling. Maybe the worst of this is over, Decker thought. But just as the thought crossed his mind, Peck emitted a blood-curdling scream, worse than any Decker had heard before. The younger man’s body jerked forward as far as it could. And the screams continued.
“NO!!! STOP!!! PLEASE!!!”
He struggled to escape the grip of the guards holding him as he saw the guard point the gun at the girl’s head. A little Vietnamese girl. She couldn’t be more than ten, he thought. The guards had led her in and placed her directly in Face’s line of sight. She locked her eyes on him. He could see the naked terror in them.
Chao spoke. “Tran Nguyen’s father was a spy. His daughter will suffer the same fate as her father unless you, Lieutenant, choose to save her.”
Face could feel the chill crawl up his spine as the guard fingered the trigger. Face shot Chao a look of fury; he had never hated a man as much as the laughing Vietcong general.
“Well, Lieutenant. I am offering you a choice. The girl’s life for the information I seek.” The general said something in Vietnamese and the girl’s eyes widened.
Face mind reeled. There had to be a way out of this nightmare. “YOU BASTARDS!” he screamed as he strained forward. He hoped he could reach Chao and rip out the man’s throat, but the guards gripped him too tightly. Finally, exhausted and defeated, he stopped fighting.
“Please,” Face begged. “Shoot me instead. Don’t hurt her. Please.”
The Vietnamese officer gave a vicious smile. “Then give me answers.”
Face wanted to. He wanted to tell Chao everything. The objective. The names of the friendlies. The plan to use E&E until the team got to a good landing zone. He felt his lips begin to move, but he stopped them.
He looked at the girl. He knew his eyes were begging forgiveness.
“I-I’m sorry” was all he could say.
As if from a distance, he heard the shot ring out. He watched the girl’s skull explode as the bullet entered her right temple. He watched as her body slumped to the floor behind the table. Then, he felt himself pulled up roughly by the guards. As he was being dragged out, he saw the girl again.
She looked different.
Instead of the little Vietnamese girl lying in a pool of blood and gray matter was a blond woman. Her lifeless brown eyes stared at him. The accusatory glare was plain.
He couldn’t stop himself. The tough soldier who had defiantly taken the Vietcong’s worst abuse began to cry, the sobs wracking his body.
“No. Oh God, no. I killed her.”
Decker was exhausted. He had watched the man in the bed wail uncontrollably about killing someone until the sedative finally took effect. Despite the commotion, Peck had never woken up. And even now, though he had mostly calmed down, his body still twitched from time to time as if there still might be some residual effect of the terror he had experienced during the night.
Once Peck’s body had lost some of its tension, Decker had ordered the guard to remove the handcuffs from Peck’s leg and wrist. The leg was now bandaged where the force of Peck’s gyrations had caused the shackle to cut deep into the skin. A doctor would soon be taking Peck to repair the man’s obviously broken wrist and to assess whether he had aggravated any of his preexisting injuries.
Looking at the man lying in the bed, Decker took a cloth and wiped away some sweat from the lieutenant’s brow. What had the man seen while he was caught in that nightmare? From the Vietnamese, Decker figured Peck had been reliving some horrific torture in a POW camp. But the war had ended nearly twenty years earlier. Had the man been plagued by these nightmares for that entire time?
The thought made Decker shudder.
He studied Peck’s face. The man looked so young and, for the first time, Decker thought, so vulnerable.
According to army records, Peck had been born in December 1950, which meant he would soon turn 40. But Decker did not believe it. He had always suspected that Peck was underage when he enlisted. He figured Peck did not become a con man in Vietnam; he had to have started someplace and forging birth records was pretty easy. What Decker did not know is how young Peck had been when he first saw combat. He had tried to do the math once, but he often got hung up — mainly because he did not know enough about the young man’s life before the military.
He thought about what he knew of the young man. Raised in orphanages until he went to college. Decker had never been able to find any paperwork about the boy (“lost in an accident”), but he suspected that Peck had graduated from high school when he was 15 or 16. It meshed with the reports of Peck’s football exploits. He apparently had played only one year, emerging as a star receiver to be named to the All-City team. If Peck was too young to play or had only just experienced a growth spurt, it would explain why he had appeared out of nowhere.
He knew Peck was smart enough to graduate early from high school. Decker had seen Peck’s college transcripts — straight A’s, dean’s list, academic scholarships. With academic credentials like that, even if he had been old enough, the young man was in no danger of getting drafted. So why had he chucked it all and enlisted? And then he raced through OCS, airborne and somehow got into Special Forces without meeting the service requirement, all so he could wind up on Smith’s team, experience hell in a POW camp and then rob a bank. Why?
Just more of the hundreds of questions that could be asked about the mysterious Lieutenant Templeton Peck.
For the first time, Decker wanted answers.
Hannibal got a report from Dr. Tanaka the next day. He repeated the news as stoically as he could to BA and Murdock. During a nightmare, Face had torn the ligaments and broken a bone his wrist. He also had aggravated his injured shoulder.
BA simply stared grimly and punched a fist into the palm of his other hands. Hannibal could see the sergeant’s concern for Face, but knew that the big man would do everything to hide his emotions.
Murdock was more demonstrative. He leaped around the room tossing the bedspreads and sheets. Hannibal didn’t try to stop him. Better to let him get out his frustration, the colonel thought. He finally intervened when the captain grabbed a lamp and aimed it at the TV.
“Enough, Captain,” Hannibal ordered. “This is not helping Face. Or any of the rest of us for that matter.”
“Speak for yourself, Colonel. This is doing a lot for me,” Murdock said through gritted teeth. With a fluid motion, he sent the lamp sailing across the room.
Hannibal sighed at the sound of shattering glass.
“Why’d ya do that, you crazy fool!” yelled BA. “Now we can’t see the news about Face.”
“Because I’m sick of the news about Face, BA. Because there is no news. Because we’re standing around with our thumbs up our butts, doing nothing!” Murdock’s voice grew louder during his tirade.
“THAT’S ENOUGH, CAPTAIN!” Hannibal commanded. He could not remember the last time he had raised his voice to the team, but he was nearly at his wits end. He understood how Murdock felt, but at times like these, he wanted to throttle the captain. “I told you before. We’re all concerned about Face. There is nothing we can do for him, right now.”
“I don’t buy that, Colonel.” Murdock’s voice had lowered, but his terse reply was laced with an anger that scared Hannibal. Despite his apparent lucidity, Hannibal knew that the captain was closer now to the brink of insanity then when he was talking to imaginary friends or acting out fantasies. Murdock was also at his most dangerous.
“Colonel,” Murdock said in a tone bordering on insubordination. “I’m going for a walk. A long walk. If you think of something useful for us to do while I’m gone, come get me. Otherwise, don’t bug me.”
He slammed the door as he exited. Seconds later, BA had his keys and was heading to the door. He looked at Hannibal for confirmation.
Hannibal nodded. “Follow him, BA. Just keep a discreet distance and make sure he doesn’t get into trouble. He needs some space. Face being hurt is hard on him.”
“It’s hard on all of us,” BA rejoined.
As he left, Hannibal began to clean up the shattered remnants of the lamp and TV.
Dr. Tanaka checked her sleeping patient in the dark room. Though she heard about the incident the night before, she had been shocked by how much damage Face had done in his sleep. She was thankful, however, that he had not done further damage to his stomach wound. It was bad enough that they had to perform surgery on his wrist to repair the ligament damage and reset the bones. The man hardly needed to have new staples placed in his stomach and intestines or a colostomy. Though it would hardly matter in the end.
She wished that the man’s “family” had mentioned his nightmares. Being caught unprepared was one of Nancy Tanaka’s pet peeves. Had she known, she could have made sure Face received a sedative before sleep.
On the plus side, the little incident meant that Face would be staying in her care longer than originally planned. The thought pleased her.
It suddenly dawned on her that she was calling her patient “Face.” In the abstract, it was a ridiculous nickname — almost as ridiculous as Hannibal’s “Mr. Lee” — but for the man in the bed, it seemed appropriate.
“Well, Face. It looks like we’re going to be getting to know one another better. I met your family last night and spoke again with them this morning. They are very concerned about you and asked me to take care of you. They want you to get better.” She paused before adding, “So do I.”
As she turned away, she did not hear her patient stir as his eyes opened and watched her leave.
Murdock walked down Sixth Street, past the shop selling cheap Halloween costumes and looked down at MacArthur Park. He could see a drug deal going down near the basketball court and a couple of homeless men sleeping on the park benches. He knew the place was dangerous, but, in his present mood, he wouldn’t mind if someone wanted to tussle. Besides, BA was watching his back from the van.
Murdock hated feeling helpless. He knew that Face needed him. More than any member of the team, Face had always been dependent on the others. Even though he tried to hide his emotions underneath his veneer of superficiality, the real Face was scared of being abandoned. That the team had left him behind — in Decker’s hands no less — was the worst thing Murdock could imagine. If only he and BA had been able to move faster through the vents, they might have been able to get to the hostages before Face had been hurt. His mind had been replaying the scene in the entryway ever since he had been forced to run away. Seeing Face’s limp body amid all that blood was almost more than Murdock could bear.
He also kept racking his brain trying to recall what Face has whispered in the restaurant. Murdock had been barely able to hear his best friend over the wailing of the hysterical teenagers, but he was sure Face had said something about killing someone. In the chaos of the moment and the aftermath at the hospital, however, Murdock had lost his ability to recall the exact words. He could picture the events vividly, but not the words. The doctor had said that Face was more than depressed and Murdock could not lose the feeling that something Face had said was important. That he could not remember something that might help his best friend made Murdock’s blood boil.
His frustration now rage, Murdock walked into the park. His fists clenched, he thought, please go ahead. Go ahead and fuck with me. I’m in the mood.
Face kept staring at the ceiling in the hope that Decker would go away. After hearing what the doctor had said about the team, he had snapped out of his funk a bit. But for the moment, he figured this had worked before and maybe, seeing that Face was unresponsive, Decker might go away. Didn’t the jerk have something better to do with his time? It seemed like he came in every day to gloat. As if Face needed reminding that he would soon be facing a firing squad.
Admittedly, Decker was employing a different strategy today. Instead of stomping about and acting officious, the man was sitting in a chair staring at Face. He had been staring for the past ten minutes, saying nothing. For some reason, this was making Face far more uneasy that any of Decker’s other visits.
“What?” Face finally said in exasperation. “Did I just sprout turnips out of my nose?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear what you said.”
“Rod, why don’t you get out of here.” In a matter-of-fact way, Face continued, “You got me. You’re gonna kill me. I’m not going anywhere. There really isn’t any more to say.”
“I’m not sure that’s true, Lieutenant.”
“Oh? So you don’t have me, you’re not going to kill me and I’m going to Disneyland?”
“I’m glad to see you feeling better.”
“Yeah. I bet. I guess if I’m feeling better, it puts me that much closer to the firing squad.”
Decker did not rise to the bait. Instead, he asked a quiet question that surprised Face.
“Lieutenant, if you could change things — everything — would you? I mean, if you could go back, would you still have joined the army?”
Had he not been lying down, the question would have knocked Face over. He answered before he could catch himself.
“There a lot of things in my life I would change . . . Joining the army isn’t one of them.”
“But you would have had such a different life. You would never have been captured by the Vietcong. Never arrested for the robbery or Morrison’s murder. Think about it. You could have settled down.”
“That was never meant to be,” Face answered forcefully. “Besides, if I hadn’t joined the army, I would never have met Hannibal.”
Decker rocked back in his chair. “You know, Lieutenant. I never understood the effect that Smith had on his soldiers. I mean . . . I’m the same rank as he is, but I can’t imagine my men willingly risking their lives for me. You and Baracus would move heaven and earth for Smith. Why?”
The absurdity of the conversation dawned on Face. Why in hell was he having a heart-to-heart with Decker of all people? Yet for some insane reason, he wanted to answer the question. It also dawned on him that Decker had called him “Lieutenant.”
“Decker, how much do you really know about us? You’ve been chasing us for years, but do you really think that you know BA and me? Do you really have a clue about the way Hannibal thinks?”
Decker looked thoughtful. “Until yesterday, I thought I knew you. But . . . But when I saw what you were going through, I realized that I didn’t know you at all.”
Saw what Face was going through? What did Decker mean by that? The realization hit him like a punch to the gut. The nightmare. Decker must have witnessed the nightmare. A wave of panic swept over him. Murdock had told him that he sometimes talked during his nightmares. Had he said anything?
“I know the camps were bad,” Decker continued. “But until I saw you reliving it, I had no idea how bad. I’d think the memories would drive me crazy. I kind of see now why your pilot lost it.”
“The solution, Decker, is not to think about it. You’re right in a way; if I thought about it all the time, I’d go crazy. So I try not to think about it.” Face smiled slightly. “If it comes out at night from time to time, I deal with it then.”
“So you’ve been having these nightmares ever since Nam?”
“Off and on. They get worse after traumatic situations and I guess the present circumstances qualify, don’t you?”
Ignoring Face’s feeble attempt at humor, Decker asked another question. “What do you see?”
“In your nightmares, Lieutenant? Do you relive things exactly as they happen? Or is it like watching a movie, where you see yourself from a distance?”
Face took a deep breath. “I can’t believe I’m about to say this to you. Hell, you’re the last person I should let inside my head. But . . . I feel — see things as they happened. As I saw them then. It’s not exactly what happened. Sometimes things that happened on different days blend together . . . Sometimes . . .” He paused and his eyes widened. In front of him was the blond woman with the large brown eyes and accusatory stare.
“Sometimes what, Lieutenant?” said the colonel, leaning forward. The apparition vanished at Decker’s words.
“Sometimes I see other things that shouldn’t be there at all.”
Face could see Decker staring at him. Probably at the terrified look Face knew was on his face.
“What do you mean, Lieutenant?”
“Oh, you know how dreams are,” Face said dismissively. “People from the present appear in the past. Things that shouldn’t be someplace are. Just enough to make things weird.”
Though Face had tried to downplay his words, he could see that Decker didn’t buy it.
“Did that happen in your nightmare last night?”
Decker probably could tell that it had, but Face shook his head in the negative.
“No. I was just talking generally.” He felt beads of sweat starting to appear on his face. To cover, he said, “Boy, it’s hot in here, isn’t it. Do you think you could ask the nurse for some ice?”
“Sure, kid. We don’t have to talk about this anymore.” Obviously Face’s attempt to change the subject had not gone unnoticed. Before he left, the colonel stopped to ask another question. Lieutenant? Tell me one more thing . . . When you enlisted, how old were you? Honestly.”
Face looked the colonel in the eye, took another deep breath and laid his head back on the pillow. There was no point in lying. His eyes fixed firmly on the ceiling tiles, he told the truth. “Sixteen.”
He could tell Decker was doing the math. Face had been only eighteen when he was brutalized.
BA nearly carried Murdock into the motel room. He was furious at the pilot.
“You crazy fool. Why you be doing such stupid things?”
He saw Hannibal, who was across the room, jump off the bed at the sight of the swelling om Murdock’s cheek and the blood flowing from above Murdock’s eye.
“What the hell happened?”
“The crazy fool decided to start a fight in the park. With five guys. I got there quick, but they already begun beatin’ him. One of ëem had a ring.”
“Aaahhh, but Colonel,” Murdock said dreamily, “you should see the other guys.” He looked up at BA and quickly kissed him on the cheek. “My hero.” Murdock promptly passed out.
“Put him on the bed, Sergeant,” commanded Hannibal with a sigh.
As he stripped Murdock of his jacked and baseball cap (wondering how, through everything, Murdock never seemed to lose the cap), BA watched Hannibal. He thought Hannibal looked tired.
“Ya should get some rest, Hannibal.”
“I will soon . . . I was just looking over some things.” Hannibal motioned to a pile of paper on the bed.
“My notes on the job at Il Trovatore. Thought it would take my mind off . . . well you know . . . But something isn’t right.”
“Well, Marc Spencer hires us to go in there because he claims there is drug dealing among the kitchen staff. Then, the day that Face goes in to scope the place out, Joe Carson and Chuck Ray, decide to shoot it up. After that, Spencer kills himself in a secluded hillside by the beach. Something doesn’t add up.”
“Whatcha thinkin’, Hannibal? That Spencer didn’t kill himself?”
“I don’t know, BA. I think Spencer might have been killed to cover someone’s tracks. I mean, look here. According to the police report when the maitre d’ was interviewed, Carson and Ray kept asking about a package.”
“So? They were probably looking for drugs.”
“Yeah, but it’s too convenient. Spencer hires us to find out about drugs in his restaurant and that same day someone shoots up the place looking for them. A restaurant that had never had a violent incident before.” Hannibal inhaled on his cigar and looked at BA. “Someone wanted us to believe there was something really going on there. I think Face got invited to a show for our benefit, but Carson and Ray messed up the script.”
BA did not like where this conversation was going. He didn’t like the thought that his li’l brother had been set up.
“Amy gave me copies of the police report. Two of the witnesses told the cops that one of the gunmen said it was supposed to be an easy job. Just get a ëpackage’ and leave. But something went wrong. Either there was no package or . . .” BA could see Hannibal trying to puzzle out an answer.
“Or what, Hannibal?”
“Or the intended target got away. Maybe through the back exit.”
“When Face let the staff escape.” BA was catching on to Hannibal’s train of thought. But something bugged him about the scenario. “Wait a sec, Hannibal. If that’s true, and this was a set-up, there must have been some package in there. There’s no point in setting this all up if the robbers can’t find the dope.”
“You’re right BA.”
“ëSides, when the gunmen saw there was no package, why’d they take hostages? Why didn’t they get outta there right away?”
“That’s puzzling me too. I mean, at first I wondered why they killed anyone, but some witnesses said Carson went crazy when some guy in the dining room tried to run and started firing. Took out part of the front room . . .”
“How come the Faceman ain’t shot then?” BA interrupted.
“I think Face was in the back. That’s why he was closer to the kitchen,” Hannibal answered. “So I think the shooting was just because the shooters panicked or were nuts. But it still leaves open the original question. If this was a quick ëin and out’ job, why didn’t the bad guys leave when they couldn’t find the drugs? Why take hostages? And why beat up the maitre d’?”
Hannibal answered his own question. “Wait. There may be an answer about the maitre d’.” He pulled a couple pieces of paper from the stack on the bed and perused them for a minute. “If the bad guys were looking for a member of the kitchen staff, they probably wanted the maitre d’ to give them information about the guy.
Catching Hannibal’s point, BA said, “So they beat ëim up to git him to tell ëbout the package and then use him as a hostage.”
“That makes sense. As for the other hostages, maybe they didn’t have time to get out before the cops arrived. Maybe, once they saw that some people had escaped, they figured they were better off taking hostages.” Hannibal shook his head as he looked back up at the sergeant. “I just don’t know.”
BA agreed. There were a lot of unanswered questions. Then something else occurred to him. “One mo’ thing, Hannibal. These dudes, Carson and Ray, don’ seem too smart. If someone’s settin’ us up and the robbers got caught, they’d have talked, right?”
“Yeah, BA . . . Which raises an even more troubling possibility.”
“That, if this was a set-up, the puppet master figured if things went wrong, the robbers were going to go in there and get killed. Either by the police or us.”
BA took a deep breath. He knew what Hannibal was thinking. The A-Team did not kill people. Sure there had been times when they had come close. But they never crossed the line. For Face to have killed the gunmen, he had to believe the robbers were going to kill the other people in there. Face would never have endangered the other hostages if it was only his own life at stake. That meant that, if someone had set the robbers up to die, that someone was perfectly willing to have the gunmen kill everyone in the restaurant. Or even expected it.
“So, what’s the plan, Hannibal? Do we track down the kitchen staff?”
“Not yet, BA. Many of those workers were undocumented, so it might be hard to find them. I think there’s something else we should consider first. Two of the witnesses were a husband and wife. Jackie Lattimore initially confirmed the statement about the ëpackage,’ but her husband Richard denied it. The police report reflects that Jackie came back after her interview and recanted that statement.”
“Ya think she was pressured?”
“Perhaps. Richard Lattimore is the one that has been speaking out so much and calling for Face to be pardoned. I think we need to find a little more about him.”
Amy was just finishing updating her editor on the latest in the Templeton Peck story. The hospital had announced a slight set-back in Face’s recovery, but was not revealing the details. Even though she knew the truth, Amy was not revealing them either.
Of greater interest to her were some of the rumors she was hearing from her Washington sources. The political pressure for a review of the A-Team case was growing. Tensions had risen in the Middle East since Iraq invaded Kuwait in August and the U.S. might start bombing Saddam Hussein. As her sources explained, making amends for a Vietnam-era injustice might help the president’s popularity if “Operation Desert Shield” ever turned into a full-scale war. Rumors had it that people in Washington were discussing pardons.
She did not mention the rumors to Hannibal or BA. She did not want to get their hopes up.
It was the story of a lifetime, the one she had always hoped she would get a chance to write. She prayed the rumors were true.
“How are you feeling today, Lieutenant?” Colonel Decker asked from the doorway.
Decker could see that Peck wasn’t in the mood to talk. After their extraordinary conversation a few days earlier, Peck had returned to staring at the ceiling when the colonel arrived.
“Glad to hear it,” Decker joked. He motioned to a small duffel bag. “I brought you some clothes. The doctor told me she wants you to start walking some more and I figured you might want to have something more than that hospital gown.”
Peck looked at him quizzically.
“I know. I know. It’s probably not up to your usual standards, but it’s hard to buy Armani on a military salary. Just sweats and some shirts. The nurse cut off the right sleeves and the neck, so the shirts should fit around your shoulder plaster without too much difficulty.” After Peck reinjured the shoulder, the surgeon had decided his left arm needed more than just a tight brace.
He could tell that Peck was confused by Decker’s change in attitude. The mistrust was apparent in the young man’s eyes. He probably figured Decker was trying to get information on Smith and Baracus.
Decker sighed. “Anyway, here you go.”
He unzipped the bag and placed it on the bed. Even with the cast on his right hand, Peck was able to root through it to see the clothes inside. Decker could see, however, that the cast prevented the lieutenant from getting anything out.
“Here, let me help you with that.” Decker pulled out a pair of underwear, sweatpants and one of the shirts. He started to reach for the back of Peck’s hospital gown, when he saw the young man tense. “Hey. I’m not going to hurt you, Lieutenant. I just figured with your hands that way, you couldn’t undo the ties in the back. Just lean forward a bit.”
Peck relaxed slightly and leaned forward, wincing a bit as the movement jarred his stomach. As Decker untied the string holding the gown in place, he thought how ridiculous this would look to his men. Colonel Roderick Decker playing nursemaid to one of the A-Team.
Then he saw the scars.
Decker stood back in shock. He didn’t see an inch on Peck’s back that didn’t bear some testament to the brutality he had suffered during the war. The criss-crossed slashes of a whip or cane ran the length of the back, intersected with spots where it looked like Peck had been branded. And Decker could tell that they didn’t stop at the man’s back. Many of the scars ran under the plaster on his shoulder and around the rib cage to the man’s torso and chest.
The signs of torture shocked Decker. Why had he had never thought that the man would carry scars from his mistreatment in the POW camp? Perhaps because Peck’s face was so handsome and carried no signs of abuse, Decker never thought about what the man might be covering up. None of the women he had interviewed during his hunt for the A-Team — and there had been plenty of those — had ever mentioned the scars.
“Have you finished looking? If not, I’ve got a really unusual one on my leg where they played tic-tac-toe with a knife.”
The sarcastic comment startled Decker out of his stupor. “I’m sorry,” he said hastily. “I . . . I just never realized . . .”
“Yeah,” Peck said curtly, cutting the colonel off. “Can you just help me get the shirt on? I’ll get a nurse to help me with the rest.”
Still astonished by what he saw, Decker complied with Peck’s request. Trying not to jar the injured shoulder, he helped Peck pull the shirt over his head. When it was done, the cloth covered only the man’s right shoulder and abdomen, but Decker figured Peck probably would feel better with even that little cover. Trying not to make the man any more uncomfortable than he already was, Decker quickly walked out of the room with a promise to get a nurse.
Decker’s behavior confused Face. One moment, the colonel was gloating about the execution; the next he was trying to get inside Face’s head.
Face kicked himself for talking. What had possessed him to reveal things to Decker that Face had never told Hannibal, or Murdock for that matter? Damn, Face knew better than to let his guard down like that. If anything, Decker was trying to butter Face up so that he would give something away about Hannibal’s location. As if Face had any clue about that.
The best Face could guess is that the team had hastily moved their base after he was identified. The doctor had mentioned that his apartment was cleaned out; that was the reason that Face had none of his own clothes. The police had also asked why Face’s car was not in the restaurant parking lot, so he guessed Hannibal or Murdock had snuck it out from under the valet’s nose.
All in all, Face marveled at Hannibal’s efficiency. Even in the chaos of the shooting, his C.O. had covered their tracks. Hannibal had done everything he could to protect his lieutenant.
Face hated the thought of that.
He wished the colonel would realize that Face didn’t deserve any protection. He only hoped that the team didn’t do anything stupid to try to get him out of this predicament. As Face saw it, he deserved everything that was coming to him.
Face knew that the blond ghost of the hostess — Allison, he kept reminding himself — would return soon. He kept thinking of how he had flirted with her in the restaurant. He had complimented her hair and honestly told her that she had beautiful eyes. Now those same eyes kept appearing in front of him, accusing him of breaking a promise he had sworn to uphold.
He had always been reluctant to hurt a woman. Even before the camp, when VC women fired at them, Face had difficulty shooting back. But after watching the guard blow the brains out of the Vietnamese girl, Face had pledged he would never hurt a woman. Sometimes Murdock and BA teased him about that, calling him a chauvinist, but he had never revealed the real reason. The others didn’t know about the girl or how Face had caused her death.
Just like he had caused the death of the woman in the restaurant.
Face suddenly realized that he was glad Hannibal was not at the hospital. The lieutenant did not know if he could look the colonel in the eyes and admit that he had caused the death of an innocent woman. He could imagine what Hannibal would say. How could Face be so stupid? How could Hannibal have trusted Face? The colonel would probably say that Face deserved Decker’s company and everything else that came with it.
Yeah, he thought as he stared at the ceiling, I deserve to be executed. It’ll probably save a lot of lives.
Trapped in his thoughts, Face barely noticed when the nurse came in and helped him into the new clothes.
For the past four days — ever since Murdock had picked his fight with the men in the park — Hannibal had been going on and on about Lattimore and the restaurant. Murdock, in contrast, didn’t give a damn about the restaurant. How could their leader even discuss a job when Face was still in the clutches of the military? Just thinking about how Hannibal was acting sent Murdock into a tizzy. He recalled his last confrontation with the colonel just twenty minutes ago:
“That’s not good enough, Hannibal.” Murdock knew he had long since crossed over the line into insubordination. “Face trusts you more than anyone. And this is how you repay that trust? By not giving a shit about him?” Murdock had stormed off without giving Hannibal a chance to reply and without even looking at the colonel.
BA was going to kill him once he discovered that Murdock had taken the van. Hannibal would kill him when he figured out where Murdock had gone. The captain figured he could deal with that later, providing he didn’t get shot first.
He parked the van at the Beverly Center. By entering from La Cienega, there was little chance the MPs would see it. From the San Vicente exit, it was only a block to the hospital.
If Hannibal would not focus on what was important, Murdock would.
Well, he thought, here goes nothing.
“Hey, Leticia. How’re you doin’ today?” The nurse took a quick glance at the hospital board as she always did when she came on duty. “What’s the latest? Did Dr. Simon finally induce Room 212?”
“Yeah, Mary. Around midnight from what I hear.”
“God, what a nightmare that was. That woman screamed during my entire shift. Refused to even take a local. Ten hours of that, can you believe it? Natural childbirth my ass. When I’m ready, I want the dope.”
“I’m with you. It’s been a madhouse for weeks. I hate October and November. Why does it seem like people only have sex in the winter?”
Mary laughed. “And it don’t make it any easier with all those soldiers runnin’ ëround out there. I will sho’ be glad when they get that guy off of seven.”
Leticia grinned mischeviously, “Oh, I don’t know. I like having the soldiers around. I kinda like a man in uniform.”
“Oh don’t you get caught up in that nonsense. This hospital has had enough trouble already. Did you hear about that x-ray tech gettin’ caught in the broom closet with a guard? They had that po’ boy marchin’ in circles ëround the hospital for hours. And the girl’s been on bedpan duty ever since.” Mary waggled her index finger. “You don’ wan’t none of that.”
The other nurse sighed. “I guess you’re right. But all these cute boys around . . . It’s such a shame.”
“The real shame is what’s goin’ on up on seven. Have you seen pictures of that man? What a heartbreaker. Give me a real man like that over any of those li’l boys in the halls.”
As she continued to think about the prisoner upstairs, Mary proceeded to look over some notes on the counter. “So, we’ve got three in labor and five in rooms?” She took another look. “Room 218 looks like she’s hours away. And 215 probably won’t be moved to labor for another, oh, 45 minutes or so?”
The other nurse nodded in reply, before adding, “Feedings went as scheduled.”
“Good. Glad to see things are under control.”
“Yeah, everything seems relatively quiet right now.”
“Sure, of course it’s quiet during the shift change, when we’ve got extra staff. But you know it’ll pick up again.”
As if on cue, a loud bang came from the elevator bay. The two nurses swung around in that direction to see a tall man in a leather jacket and a baseball cap come charging down the hall. His arms flailed in every direction and he nearly slipped and fell.
Reaching the nurses station, he pressed forward against it and panted, “Stairs?” The nurses instinctively pointed the way in the direction opposite of where he had come.
He raced down the hall towards where they pointed, stopping momentarily to glance through the window of the nursery. For a second, Mary thought she heard the man offer some advice about not joining the military, but she couldn’t hear him all that clearly. After his brief respite, he continued his sprint down the hall.
Only to stop, spin on his heels and turn back as two furious MPs came racing around the corner in his direction.
“HOOOOOOOWWWWWLLLLL” The sound of the man’s scream reverberated around the floor. He ran back in the nurses direction, looked from side to side and raced into one of the empty rooms.
The two nurses watched the MPs, their night sticks at the ready, run into the room after the wild-looking man. Suddenly, a loud crash erupted from the room.
“What the hell?!?” Mary cried and she ran towards the room. Before she got there, the bed come rolling into the hallway, both MPs sprawled across its top. She cringed as the bed rolled across the hallway and struck the wall in the opposite room. Thank god that room was empty. Who knows what this commotion would do to a pregnant woman?
The man in the baseball cap leaped out of the first room and swung his head in every direction. His eyes went wide as he looked back to the elevator bay. Mary could hear the doors opening and more shouts filled the ward.
“STOP THIS!!! This is a hospital!” She heard Leticia scream as if that was going to do any good. Turning in the direction of the desk, Mary could see a dozen soldiers come racing down the floor.
A flash of white whizzed by her and she spun around. The wild man was throwing bandage rolls — and any other supplies he could find — in the direction of the soldiers.
Mary would never be able to say what possessed her, but as the soldiers neared, she yelled “RUN” to the wild man. Grabbing a nearby gurney, she shoved it into the soldiers’ path. The first soldier was unable to stop before the force of the gurney doubled him over. Three other soldiers on the first one’s heels ran into the first and they too fell over.
Looking back, she saw the man again race down the hall and again come face to face with soldiers coming in the opposite direction. Mary knew he was trapped, but hoped against hope that he would escape.
He came charging back in her direction, but took an abrupt right turn through a doorway.
“No! You can’t go in there!” she called after him. “That’s the Labor Room . . .”
Without pausing, the soldiers raced in after him. As she heard the sounds of banging, crashing and shrieking patients finally die down, Mary knew it was all over.
Decker had been struggling to write a letter to his son when the three MPs dragged the man with the baseball cap into the room. The colonel was secretly glad for the interruption; he had no idea what to write anyway. So pushing aside the blank piece of paper, he stared at the other man as the MPs walked out and took their positions outside the glass windows to his office. The colonel recognized the pilot from his files and had long suspected that he was in regular contact with Smith. But since Decker had never been able to prove it and, after all, Murdock had never been convicted of any crime, the colonel had pretty much left the crazy captain alone. A few questions and a little surveillance here and there, but that was about it. Decker figured that Murdock was pretty harmless.
Still, the pilot had managed to slip past several security checkpoints and lead the MPs on a merry chase through the maternity ward before he was captured. Decker would have no choice but to increase security now. His higher-ups would demand it.
“Captain Murdock, I assume you have an explanation for this little stunt of yours?”
Murdock shifted in his seat and mumbled, “I came to see Face.”
“That’s impossible. Lieutenant Peck is a convicted murderer in military custody. He cannot receive visitors. Even his priest has been denied access.”
“You know that charge is a crock, Decker. Face didn’t kill anyone.”
Decker rose from his chair and grasped his hands behind his back, stifling the real thoughts running through his head. “That’s irrelevant, Captain. I have orders that the Lieutenant is to have no visitors.”
The man still seated in the chair began to shake as he spat, “That’s all that matter to you, Decker? Your orders? Well I tell you something. There are things that are more important than orders.”
“Captain . . .” Decker tried to respond, but Murdock was on a roll.
“There is loyalty for one. And friendship. That’s my best friend up there, who’s saved my life more times than you can count, kept me sane in the VC camps. I owe him everything and now he’s all alone. That’s the worst thing that could happen to Face. Did you know that?”
Murdock didn’t pause to let Decker answer, but the pilot’s voice grew quiet and bitter. “I promised Face years ago that he would never die alone, because he feared that more than anything. We all promised Face that. I just came to see him, to let him know he wasn’t alone.”
Decker felt the sting of the captain’s words. He personally wanted to escort Murdock up to the secured area, but the colonel knew his superiors would find out. There was no way to make an exception.
“I’m sorry, Captain. There’s nothing I can do.”
“Yeah,” Murdock hissed. “I’ll bet. You’ve probably been lording over Face ever since you showed up. Have you given him details of the firing squad yet? Bragged about an unmarked grave?”
Decker ignored the jibes. “Captain, I’m only going to say one thing . . . And I’m going to say it even though I know you can’t possibly know where Colonel Smith or Sergeant Baracus are. I mean, you obviously don’t have any contact with them. After all, if you did, you would be considered part of the A-Team too, right?”
Decker paused, making sure he had Murdock’s attention before continuing. “But, let’s just say you happened to run in to them on the street. Just hypothetically. Would you give Colonel Smith a message from me?”
Decker wanted to laugh at the stunned expression on the pilot’s face. The other man looked completely unsure of how to respond.
“Don’t even bother answering, Captain. Let’s just assume — hypothetically — that you would . . . Give Smith this message. Tell him to keep his distance. Tell him there is nothing he can do here except get himself and Baracus killed. And Peck too. Tell him that. For everyone’s sake.”
He stood up and motioned for the guards at the door. As they entered, Decker told two of them to escort Captain Murdock to the exit and make sure that he left the hospital grounds. Once the MPs had taken Murdock out of the room, the third guard turned to the colonel.
“Do you want us to follow him?”
“No. Don’t bother. He’s just a crazy pilot who knew Peck in Vietnam.”
“So how did it feel to walk around a little bit?” Dr. Tanaka asked Face.
“Okay, I guess.” The doctor could see that her patient was sinking more and more back into his depressed state. She had hoped he would perk up after she told him about her meeting with his “family,” but that had been only temporary.
Pulling up a chair, she asked, “Mr. Peck . . . Face, if you don’t mind, what’s troubling you?”
He glanced at her and sarcastically replied, “Gee, Doc., I didn’t realize we were on a first-name basis.”
“I don’t know. Face seems appropriate. Ever since I started updating Hannibal on things, I keep thinking of you as ëFace.'” It then dawned on her what he was trying to do. “Hey, enough with trying to change the subject. Tell me what’s going on?”
“Well, let’s see.” The sarcasm was still evidence. “Where should I start? Oh, I know. How about with my upcoming execution? I don’t know ëbout you, Doc., but the thought of facing a firing squad doesn’t exactly raise my spirits. I’ve already escaped it once and I figure that’s not the type of thing you can get away with too often.”
“Don’t you have faith in Hannibal?”
Face rolled his eyes. “Of course I have faith in Hannibal. I’ve put my life in his hands for more than twenty years. This is not a question of faith. But . . .” His voice trailed off.
“Nah, it’s not important.” He shook his head as he spoke, but she knew he was lying.
“Oh yes it is, Face. Tell me.”
“It . . . It’s just that I don’t want Hannibal or anyone else to get hurt trying to save me. Can you understand that? They’d have to be suicidal to come here with all the MPs around . . . And they’d risk the lives of the staff and patients. Hannibal won’t do that and he knows I understand he won’t.
“So you see, Doc.,” he continued. “This isn’t about faith. It’s about reality.”
“And that reality is that you’re guilty about what happened in the restaurant, so you’re going to let yourself die without a fight?”
He looked at her, the surprise evident in his eyes. He must have been wondering how she knew. The shock disappeared quickly, as if he had pulled a mask over his face. Very quietly, he spoke. “Maybe . . . Maybe it’s what I deserve.”
The doctor’s frustration boiled over. “I don’t get you. You risk your life in that restaurant for a bunch of complete strangers. That was an incredibly brave act, but now you’re acting like a coward.” She stood up and angrily pointed a finger in his face. “I didn’t save your life in that operating room just so you could piss it away.”
He looked at her then and she could see the sorrow in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Doc. I’m sorry if it hurts you, but you have no say in the matter.”
Hannibal was enraged when he learned of Murdock’s little escapade at the hospital. Didn’t the pilot realize that, by concentrating on what had happened in the restaurant, Hannibal had been trying to taking his mind off Face? It was the only way Hannibal could think to stay sane.
Now the captain had ran off and screwed everything up. Hannibal knew Decker would increase security. The plan Hannibal was formulating would be rendered useless. Decker was right. It would be suicide to attempt a rescue and they would probably wind up getting themselves and some innocent people killed. Even if they could somehow get Face out of the hospital, Hannibal knew that the lieutenant could never live with that blood on his hands. Face could never live with that guilt.
As Hannibal stewed in a motel room in California, on the other side of the country, a meeting was taking place. The subject was the same as it had been for most of the past week.
The man in charge looked over the briefing book he had received. He had already reviewed the biographical information regarding the three men involved. He was now listening to recommendations from the uniformed men around the table. As always seemed to occur when the A-Team was involved, there was a difference of opinion.
“These men are convicted murderers of an Army colonel. We can’t just let them go.”
“Cut the crap. We all know those charges were bogus. They were in Hanoi at the time.”
“There still is the robbery and escaping from Fort Bragg.”
“Who’s to say that the robbery charge wasn’t faked?”
The arguments continued for an hour before the meeting disbanded. Nothing was resolved.
Murdock looked through the window from the scaffold.
Maybe Hannibal was right and this was a good diversion. The colonel had reamed Murdock for more than hour after he returned from the hospital the day before. The pilot had never seen his commander in such a fury. The colonel had yelled about increased security, taking unnecessary risks and screwing up their plan. Murdock recalled how he had stared sheepishly at the laces on his sneakers until the colonel finished yelling, ending with comments about how Decker probably had him followed.
Murdock insisted that was not the case, though he still could not understand why Decker had let him go. Even more, he did not understand why the MPs had not followed the van back to the motel. And they call me the crazy one, he mused.
When he had woken this morning, Murdock had expected Hannibal to still be fuming. Instead, the colonel had surprisingly announced that they were going to do something to take their minds off Face. Murdock had not argued. He knew that he’d screwed up, so he was going to toe the line and be a good soldier. If Hannibal thought a diversion was in order, Murdock would let himself be diverted. It was not completely succeeding, but Murdock didn’t mind this job. After all, when you were as good a pilot as he was, heights didn’t get to you.
BA on the other hand, looked ready to lose his lunch.
“Hang in there big guy,” Murdock said as he pretended to squeegie the window. “Don’t look down.”
Even under his dark skin, BA looked green. “I’m gonna git’ Hannibal” was all he kept saying.
“Come on, BA. Just set the charges and let’s go.”
BA placed the small devices on the corner of the office window. Through it, Murdock could see the dark mahagony furniture of Richard Lattimore’s office. It had taken a while before they had found the right window and the pilot’s shoulder hurt from the repetitive motion of the squeegie. He had been thankful that they had finally found Lattimore’s corner office, identifying it by some of the plaques on the wall.
“Okay. Got it,” said BA. “Let’s git out of here.”
BA quickly set the scaffold in motion. It only took seconds to reach the roof from the 53rd floor. They would be back later and, in the meantime, Murdock hoped that no one would wonder why the window washers never cleaned any of the building’s other floors.
The noise of the door woke Face from his nap. He turned his head to look at the doctor and immediately knew from her body language that she was angry. When she spoke, however, she tried to cover it by using a sickeningly sweet voice that did not fit her at all.
“Face, I need to talk with you about your physical therapy. I’ve been hearing that you are refusing to do your shoulder exercises.”
“Don’t see much point,” he mumbled with as little emotion as possible. Face figured that if he told her the truth, she would go away.
“Face, you have to go through rehabilitation.” She no longer sounded so cloying. “If you don’t . . .”
He cut her off. “If I don’t, what? I won’t be able to wave at the firing squad?” Despite the gallows humor in the words, he said it tonelessly.
“Please, don’t act like this. I know you’re depressed.” Her anger simmered to the surface as she spoke. “Damn it, Face. Why won’t you at least try?”
He saw the look in her eyes. For the first time, he raised his voice. “Stop it, Doc. I don’t want your pity. Why don’t you find some other patients to annoy? Hell, you could definitely use some practice on your bedside manner.”
Her face flushed bright red. He regretted his words the instant they escaped his lips and cursed himself for embarrassing her. But then, it seemed that nearly everything he did had unintended results.
He lowered his voice. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. You’re trying your best, but there’s no point to it. Just go away, please.”
Face felt Dr. Tanaka’s hand touch his right arm, just above the cast. In a strong, low voice that sounded far more sincere than the phony voice she had used when she had first walked in, she responded, “I’m not going anywhere.”
He thought he detected an undercurrent in what she said. No, Face, he chided himself. You’re just imagining things. You only believe you have every woman figured out.
He turned away from her and lifted his eyes to the ceiling. Maybe if he started counting the ceiling tiles again, she would go away.
“Ooooohhhh,” she hissed, even as she tried to stifle the sound of her frustration. “Look at me, Face . . . I’m warning you . . . If you don’t, I’m going to break out my dog monologue again. You’ve only heard the first part.”
That, thinking of “rats and retrievers,” was probably a fate worse than death. Reluctantly, he turned his head back towards her. Apparently satisfied that she had his attention, she continued.
“Face, all I am asking is for you to do your therapy. Nothing more. I won’t leave until you promise me that you will work with the therapist.”
He wondered how she knew he could never pass up a negotiation.
“If I agree, you’ll leave?” he asked.
She flushed again. “If that’s what you want, yes.”
“I agree then.”
She spun around and walked out in a huff. As he watched her, he kept reminding himself that she was not his type. Maybe if things were completely different, he thought. Maybe.
Sitting in his office at the hospital, Decker wondered at the way the past few days had turned everything upside down? Talking with Peck, seeing the tangible proof of the horrors the other man had suffered and then listening to the crazy pilot had changed something in Decker. For much of his adult life, he had chased Smith, Baracus and Peck without hesitation. First, when he replaced Lynch and, later, when he took charge again after the A-Team escaped the firing squad. In all that time, he had never doubted their guilt. That the A-Team had robbed the Bank of Hanoi was something he never questioned.
Now he had too many questions.
Admittedly, he had always wondered why Smith and Baracus would rob a bank. Sure he knew Smith broke rules to achieve objectives, but robbing a bank never seemed quite Smith’s style. Baracus, too. The sergeant was muscle, definitely not the brains of the outfit. He certainly would never have thought of robbing a bank.
No, in Decker’s mind, Smith and Baracus were not the driving forces. No, Decker had always pictured Peck as the one behind the robbery. Maybe not the actual plan — that would have been Smith’s — but the idea itself. It sounded like the type of scheme Peck would have proposed. And it meshed with his background. The poor orphan, already known to be a con artist, had come up with a way to come home from the war a wealthy man. Decker had always assumed that Peck had conned Smith into thinking that the bank robbery was a good idea; that maybe it would help the war effort.
As long as he pictured Peck as the mercurial conman Decker saw during his years of chasing the A-Team, Decker could believe that Peck had been the instigator. But those beliefs no longer sustained Decker. Not now. Murdock had talked about loyalty and friendship — and described Peck as someone who had saved Murdock’s life. Didn’t conmen care only for themselves? Plus, no matter how good a con artist Templeton Peck was now, he had been only nineteen at the time of the robbery and less than a year beyond the physical and emotional horrors demonstrated by the scars he carried. In the past few days, Decker had learned that the real Templeton Peck was someone completely different from the glib conman that the colonel had always believed him to be. Decker had seen that real man — almost a haunted child — in the aftermath of the nightmare.
Decker realized that he no longer believed that Templeton Peck had instigated the robbery.
And if that was the case, what did it mean about the rest of the team?
As they had driven back from Lattimore’s building, they had heard the news. Police barricades had been placed on all of the streets surrounding the Cedars Sinai Medical Center. No traffic was being permitted between Melrose and Burton Way and between La Cienega and Robertson.
BA knew that the increased security destroyed any plan of rescuing Face. There now was no way to get within three blocks of the entrance and, with Face in his condition, there was no way they could get him to a vehicle that far away.
When they got back to the motel, he had made up a story about feeling a shimmy in the front end of the vehicle. Something he needed to fix before they returned to the building that night. The truth was that he just needed to get away and be alone. So BA now found himself sitting in the back of the van, letting his silent tears fall.
He rarely ever cried, and never in front of the other team members. He was supposed to be the physically strongest member of the team. And strong men like him never cried. But sometimes, he felt like a child. It was a side he was embarrassed to show to the others, so he usually slipped away and let his tears fall when no one was looking.
Thinking about Face trapped in that hospital room only caused the tears to flow more rapidly. BA knew that the crazy fool had fucked up their chance at a rescue. He didn’t really blame Murdock. The man was crazy, wasn’t he? No, BA blamed himself. He shoulda stopped Murdock. He shoulda hid the keys to the van so the crazy fool couldn’t find them. He shoulda done something. Anything.
Now the Faceman was gonna die. First they’d abandoned him. Now they’d screwed up the only chance to save him.
BA continued to cry.
Dr. Tanaka could not stop confronting her patient over his apparent willingness to give up. What was it about Templeton Peck that was so exasperating?
She tried to reason with him, but he seemed resigned to his death. They had not even scheduled his execution, but he had dictated a will and had just spoken to Decker about arranging for a priest to give him Last Rites. When she heard about that, she had hit the roof and immediately confronted him.
“I will not have you talking about dying in here,” she had commanded.
“I’m sorry doctor,” he had answered tonelessly. “It’s kind of a big issue for me right now.”
“Your job, Face, is to recover from your injuries. I will not have my staff laid low by the realization that they are helping you get better only so you can let yourself die. Don’t you realize how much this hurts them?”
As soon as the words had left her mouth, she had realized how ridiculous it had sounded. But what else was she going to say? Don’t die, because I couldn’t stand it. She was a doctor, after all. She saw death all the time.
It was just that she had never seen someone so young so willing to accept death without a fight. He had saved so many other people from death, but was unwilling to fight for himself. Or even for the people that cared for him. For Hannibal, BA and Murdock.
He had looked at her then. Something about the way he had looked at her had made her feel as if his eyes were boring into her soul. She had felt exposed completely and had wondered if he could really tell what she was feeling.
“Tell your staff that I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt them.”
He had continued to stare at her.
“I never meant to hurt you.”
The conversation had ended only moments before. Now, immediately outside his room, she tried to hide her tears from the guards.
Seeng the doctor trying to fight her tears as she left the room only confirmed what Face had already decided. No matter what he did, he kept hurting people. He knew the world would be a far better place without him.
Face had taught himself to accept death. He accepted it now.
Across the room, the blond woman nodded.